Bahrain’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement rejecting the European Parliament’s resolution regarding human rights in Bahrain. The Foreign Ministry stated that the resolution was based on falsified information regarding political activist Abdulhadi Khawaja, who is currently serving a life sentence.

The attempts by Bahrain’s government to present its justifications regarding such cases to the international media and international human rights organisations have not succeeded in getting a hearing since the 2011 political unrest. 

The Bahraini authorities have acknowledged past failings in the context of the BICI report, however the European Parliament and others should acknowledge the human rights reforms that have taken place during the past decade; including police reforms, judicial reforms, the establishment of the Ombudsman office, the establishment of the National Institution for Human Rights, the establishment of the Prisoners and Detainees Protection Center, to name a few.  

A level of bias frequently accompanies human rights campaigning, and hence the manner in which these cases are represented to the European Parliament and such organizations. 

Human rights work should be free of bias, whether towards governments or even human rights defenders who in many cases are political activists with obvious agendas. 

Following the European Parliament’s resolution, the Foreign Ministry stressed that Abdulhadi Khawaja had been convicted of treason, undermining state security, attempting to overthrow the government, communicating with foreign countries to carry out hostile acts against the kingdom, and establishing and managing an unlawful organization to carry out acts of terrorism and sabotage.

The European Parliament should not disregard the seriousness of such charges, especially given the history of Abdulhadi Khawaja’s political provocations and his pro-Islamic Republic ideology.  

This comment is not an attempt to whitewash the image of the Bahraini government or justify the convictions of Abdulhadi Khawaja. This is simply an attempt to address the issue by presenting an objective argument to the case. An argument the European Parliament and others possibly overlook when passing such resolutions and judgments against our country.

Bahrain does not have an unblemished record, but the same could certainly be said regarding these so-called human rights defenders and opposition activists such as Abdulhadi Khawaja who have done great harm to Bahrain.  

Abdulhadi Khawaja is often portrayed as something of a martyr in the cause of human rights, imprisoned for his beliefs and suffering in the cause of democracy and freedom from oppression. 

The truth is of course more complex. Abdulhadi first became politically active around 1979 at the time of the Islamic Revolution in Iran – participating in political demonstrations in the UK. He joined the Islamic Front for the Liberation of Bahrain, a radical Shia revolutionary group, backed by Iran and dedicated to the overthrow of the Bahraini monarchy. Two years later this organization staged an attempted coup, and Khawaja was thus forced to remain in exile, continuing to be politically active from first Syria and then Denmark. 

In 2001 Khawaja benefitted from the amnesty by King Hamad who had recently come to power and had set out on an ambitious programme of reforms. Khawaja returned to Bahrain and immediately began setting up the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, described by the Institute for International and Security Affairs, Europe’s largest think-tank as “the most radical opposition group currently found in Bahrain”. 

The activities of Khawaja’s group over the next decade were even a matter of concern for other Shia oppositionists. He was described by the Shia religious leader Abdulamir Al Jamri as an “opportunist” who was trying to provoke the authorities into an aggressive response, in order to achieve “personal notoriety” (Wikileaks). 

Moving forward to February 2011, we see Khawaja at the forefront of efforts to force violent confrontation in the cause of regime change. Although in the early stages the protest movement was publicly calling for reform of the existing system, there are several videos showing Khawaja encouraging calls for “toppling the regime”. 

He was prominent as a figure blocking the path of reform and dialogue. For example, the link here shows him boasting to his followers about how the Crown Prince approached them calling for dialogue and they scornfully rejected this dialogue. The same video shows him encouraging children to skip school and attend protests. Elsewhere his sectarian instincts come through, with him on video telling followers that he is holding out for a Shia Prime Minister. Link here 

Khawaja’s story shows how international observers largely misunderstood the direction of travel of the protest movement in 2011. Not only had the sectarian leaders of this movement been active long before 2011, but these figures are anything but democrats and are still working to a sectarian, pro-Iran and intolerant agenda in contrast to the aspirations of most Bahrainis.

International observers continue to overlook the seriousness of these cases and the dangers such figures may pose to the security and stability of countries. Meanwhile their dislike for governments and monarchies builds a barrier to their subjectivity towards addressing such issues. 

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